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Blizzard’s Diablo was originally a turn-based RPG, pitch document reveals

Speaking at this year’s Game Developers Conference, Blizzard North co-founder David Brevik revealed that the studio’s landmark action-RPG Diablo was once a very different game than what later ended up shipping to retail. Brevik has since uploaded his original pitch document, giving rare insight into the origin story behind one of Blizzard’s biggest hits.

Notably, the document reveals that Diablo was originally envisioned as a turn-based RPG in which players controlled a party of adventurers, greatly contrasting the real-time combat featured in the final release.

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Diablo‘s original pitch is attributed to “Condor Inc,” a studio Brevik founded while working at a digital clip art company in the early ’90s. As the studio floundered, Brevik and his team covertly assembled a pitch for a PC-compatible role-playing game that “fills a neglected niche within the computer game market.”

“As games today substitute gameplay with multimedia extravaganzas, and strive toward needless scale and complexity, we seek to reinvigorate the hack and slash, feel good gaming audience,” the pitch reads. “Emphasis will be on exploration, conflict and character development in a dark quest for justice.”

Taking its name from the California Bay Area’s Mt. Diablo and citing inspiration from hardcore RPGs like Rogue and Nethack, Diablo originally featured a permadeath mechanic at its core, forcing players to make careful decisions throughout in order to minimize the risk of party annihilation.

Brevik and his team also emphasized Diablo‘s replayability, noting that the game would feature randomly generated dungeon layouts, items, and monsters. Though many pitched elements eventually found their way into the game’s final release, the pitch document estimates the game’s resolution at a modest 640 x 480p in SVGA mode, hinting at its vintage.

While expansions would play a major role in later Diablo sequels, Brevik’s team was ahead of the curve in its pitch for the original game in the series. Taking cues from the collectible card game Magic the Gathering, Diablo‘s development team planned to release a slate of paid level expansions and weapon packs for the game, many years before downloadable content would make the practice commonplace. The pitch document suggests a $5 price for individual expansion disks, drawing further parallels to modern add-on pricing.